'It was a good tight tussle right to the end' - Ponting
Ricky Ponting said that he was more proud than relieved after Australia had kept their nerve to emerge triumphant in yet another crunch game, and he was effusive in his praise for the bowlers who delivered such telling spells to script an 18-run victory.
Though he was defending just 213, Ponting said that India's early collapse had given his team an edge that they never quite relinquished. "I thought we were actually in the game for a fair bit of it to tell the truth," he said, when asked if there had been a particular moment when he scented victory. "Though we hadn't gotten the runs on the board, we got four wickets quite early and if you looked at their team, you could realise they had a fairly long tail with Ajit [Agarkar] batting where he was, and Harbhajan [Singh] after him.
"We just needed another couple during the middle of the innings. I still had Brett [Lee] and Glenn [McGrath] and Stuey Clark up my sleeve, so I was always going to bring them back to hopefully finish things off. It was a good tight tussle right to the end, and Australia generally wins most of those contests."
The cockiness was tempered by the knowledge that it had been a close-run thing, with the pre-planned omissions of Michael Clarke and Shane Watson appearing to be glaring ones halfway through the day. "It's always nice to have lots of options when you have a small total on the board but we didn't have that tonight. Brett and the rest of the guys were terrific. We covered the bases we were insufficient in. At the end of the day, it was a very good win. We've mixed and matched our teams, and we've won just enough games to make the final, as we always wanted to do."
There was unstinting praise for Lee, who finished with 5 for 38 while denting Indian chances with every spell he bowled. "I've said that I think he's the best one-day bowler," he said. "It's very rare that he doesn't get wickets with the new ball. And you know that during the middle of the innings, if you go back to someone with that sort of pace, it's going to be difficult for new guys starting against him. It's just been a pleasure watching the way he's going about his work at the moment."
The Brads, Hogg and Haddin, who gave Australia hope with a quickfire 77-run partnership, were also singled out. "That was a very good piece of bowling," he said, when asked about the manner in which Hogg had outfoxed Suresh Raina. "He's a pretty under-rated player for us. He's done a very good job for a long period of time now. When he gets a chance, he does the job and no one loves his cricket more. He was a vital cog in the chain tonight, the guy we were always going to have to go to for a breakthrough in the middle overs. He did it twice, and did well with the bat as well."
As for Haddin, Ponting said that his displays in the tournament had revealed that a future without Adam Gilchrist might not be so frightening after all. "We've known for a long time that Brad is a very good cricketer," he said. "In most other teams around the world, he'd have played a lot more cricket. He's just had to wait a long time behind Gilly. You've seen the way he's batted and the way he's kept. He's going to be a great replacement when Adam moves on."
The concerns centred on the batting, once again below par against a disciplined Indian attack. "The running wasn't great either," he said with a wry grin. "We've got to get a lot better before the final. The batting hasn't been good. We've got out of jail a couple of times - Huss's hundred the other day, and Haddin's been terrific at seven. The guys at the top haven't got in and got the runs."
Amid the euphoria, there was also some words of praise for Dinesh Mongia's fine effort. "I think we always knew he was that sort of player, and they needed that sort at the top of their order. I wasn't surprised when [Mohammad] Kaif came out when he did, and him [Mongia] as well. We knew he could play, and he was very dogged. Losing wickets around him, it was up to him to stay and steer them through, and he nearly did that."
Lee was understandably thrilled with his five-for, which took his tournament returns to 8 for 84 from just two games. "It's always nice to get two early wickets," he said. "With a man like Sachin Tendulkar out there, it's nice to chance your arm against the best. Along with Ricky [Ponting] and Brian [Lara], he's the best going around, so I'm pretty happy.
It's just my second chance. The way the sides have been picked, it's given all of us an opportunity to get back into it, and the body is feeling good. It came out well tonight. Every spell I came up and bowled, I felt confident, we had fantastic fields."
And though Glenn McGrath didn't pick up any wickets, his tightfistedness - 25 runs conceded from eight overs - played a big part in Lee's success. "It's always great to have Glenn back," he said. "The figures speak for themselves. Looking forward to the big final coming up on Sunday, the ICC Trophy and the Ashes as well, it's a big summer, and hopefully one that Glenn and I will be part of."
He also praised Ponting for his support during the lean years, when he expended lots of energy in the nets without making it into the XI. "When I wasn't bowling well, he sat me down and put a couple of different ideas in my head," he said. "Thinking back to Brisbane a couple of years ago, he had a really good chat with me. We look at Ricky as one for guidance."
As a member of the pace-bowling fraternity, he was also delighted by the manner in which Stuart Clark bounced back after a mauling in the last game. "I said after the last game, it's unfortunate the way one-day cricket goes. He's the kind of bowler who can turn around straightaway. He's gone from a disappointing match to bowling fantastic. He bowled at good pace, had a fantastic caught-and-bowled. That definitely changed his game."
And after walking a disciplinary tightrope in recent times, Ponting spent a couple of minutes having to answer questions about the Tendulkar incident that saw him exchange more than a few words with Mark Benson, who reversed his caught-behind decision. "The umpire made his decision, and then he reversed it. I think he actually got it right in the end. He explained the reason why. I wasn't that happy at the time, but it was the umpire's decision."
Ponting made it clear that he hadn't approached the umpire to voice his displeasure. "I didn't approach him, he called me over to explain why he had changed his decision," he said. "I didn't actually see Sachin being called back. I was in the middle of a group with the guys, and Mark was calling me over to explain it."
He refused to accept that such controversial moments made a case for the increased use of technology. "I've never been a great fan," he said candidly. "We've experimented with a lot of things. The Super Test was one where the umpires could refer everything to the third umpire. There were a few that went either way. I think technology for line decisions, the way it's being used, is about as much as it should be used.
"You have to understand that umpires are human and they will make mistakes. Much like the players - we probably make as many mistakes as anyone going around. I'm a big believer in leaving the human element in."
After his last transgression, Chris Broad, the match referee, had suggested that Ponting was on very thin ice. And but for the umpires taking a benevolent view of his antics today, he might well have slipped under. With the Champions Trophy and the Ashes looming, Australia can heave a sigh of relief that it hasn't happened.
Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo